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Facing Race – Julie Bravo

“Facing Race National Conference is the largest national multiracial gathering of leaders, educators, journalists, artists, and activists on racial justice.” This is under the event description on the Facing Race web page and it was exactly that. There were hundreds of people from all over the US, people from all backgrounds, races, religions, and we had all come together as advocates for racial justice. Over the course of three days we would discuss and come up with strategies to ensure equity and justice for all to take back to our organizations, and/or institutions and implement them there. That way, each and every individual that attended the conference would be doing their part in their individual communities but with the same end goal: deconstructing the old structures of racism still in place today, in order to live in a racially just world.

One of the key concepts of the conference was defining racial justice. Many have thought of racial justice as justification for revenge on the oppressive systems and individuals that have maintained racism. Rinku Sen, our opening speaker, advised that we, “Do not confuse justice for revenge, we must redefine justice to make real change.” If we go about trying to solve the problem with the wrong solution we are not going to get anywhere. It is therefore necessary to clarify what it is we strive for keeping in mind the diversity of our people in order to ensure every one’s individual need is met.

We must get at the heart of the problem and provide a solution that will take apart that ladder of racial hierarchy. We don’t want to reverse the hierarchy, putting different people on top. In other words, for the longest time there has been only one model to live by: either you are the oppressor or you are the oppressed. We strive to find a way, through this conference and others alike, to create a new model in which there is no hierarchy of any kind, one which is, “closer to a new humanity.” “We must find a way that is not only revolutionary but transformative!”

With all the progress we have made as a minority pushing for racial justice, it is easy to be part of the color blind racism- denying that there are differences (i.e.: skin color ) and acting as if they did not matter when in reality they do; acting as if there was nothing wrong and carry on until injustices are normalized. The opening speaker, Rinku Sen, gave an example of color blind racism in which she was told that there was no need to fight for racial justice, since, “you have Oprah and you have Obama, what more do you want?”

It is difficult to deconstruct the system of racism when it’s been in place for so long and has been embedded deep in our institutions so much so that it no longer seems to be a problem; we have gotten used to it and conform to the little change that we get. This is why national conferences like this one are necessary, to remind us that there is still much to be done and that we cannot settle for minimal change.

Keynote speaker Junot Diaz points out that, “Most of us with privilege are big dicks and we forget where we come from and the people who helped get us to the top.” In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian educator Paulo Freire states, “Nadie libera a nadie, nadie se libera solo, los hombres se liberan en communion,” which basically translates to “no one liberates no one, no one can free himself alone, men liberate themselves in communion.” Junot Diaz and Paulo Freire emphasize that we can only liberate ourselves together, without each other we will get nowhere. But some of us, once at the top, forget about the rest who have yet to liberate themselves and continue to live their new lives, no longer as the oppressed and sometimes becoming the oppressor.

As advocates for racial justice we must stay focused on our main goal especially after getting some results for our efforts. Racial justice must be achieved and we must take action now because people are suffering as we negotiate; people have died because of racism, “the dead demand change, our ancestors demand change,” says Rinku. We must do our part and those after us will do theirs, and so on. The work to advance racial justice and achieve equity will continue. We have much to do and it can be overwhelming. Junot Diaz agrees that it is a lot we still have to work on but he says, “All the things that we suffered today, yesterday and tomorrow the future will never forget us. We will never be forgotten and that is why this fight is beautiful and necessary!” The solution might not be so simple but perhaps we need to tackle the problem from a different perspective.

The solution has been here all along. The bible says, “ante los ojos de Dios no hay uno mejor que otro- there is no superior race, everyone is equal. Love thy neighbor, Jesus teaches us and treat others as you want to be treated. “In the end LOVE is the answer, Love= Liberation”- said one of the speakers at one of the workshops. We must set aside our differences, stop running authenticity checks (trying to prove that one is more American- more human than the other) and learn to love every group as much as we love our own- we need to help each other out.

It is in light of helping each other that I give special thanks to the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) for sponsoring the trip to the Facing Race National Conference. OMA not only promotes a campus community for under-represented students at the University of Richmond, it really does strive to make diversity thrive on our campus.

That this has been a privilege it is true. It is thanks to the support of alumni Jewel Glenn that our group was able to attend the conference, as not many institutions provide the opportunity to attend events like Facing Race National Conference. Thank you OMA, and thank you Mrs. Jewel.

One thing is to fight for others but the real change happens when we teach others how to fight for themselves and this is what the conference did for us; it pointed out that we are no longer the minority and that without us there would be no legitimate majority. I left the conference with a renewed sense of responsibility and inspired to make a change taking small steps towards racial justice.

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